The birth of twin book fairs in the digital age

In 1984’s Ghostbusters, Egon Spengler — a tech-savvy computer whiz — declares that “print is dead” when asked if he likes to read. In recent years this phrase garnered special attention and was dubbed a visionary statement when the closure of many newspapers, magazines and bookstores seemed to suggest there may be some truth to the fictional character’s belief. A particularly deadly year for print in Toronto, 2014 saw the loss of six bookstores in six weeks, while the much-revered alternative arts magazine FUSE suddenly ceased operations. And yet last year saw the birth of not one but two art book fairs in Toronto, and both were renewed for a second year.

TOABF - 2016 Vendor. Photo by Aron Safranyos 

First, the Toronto Art Book Fair (or TOABF as it is affectionately known) took over the historic Artscape Youngplace building with exhibitors’ booths and art installations in June 2016. Visitors encountered zines, artists’ books, prints, magazines, and more from local and international creators. There was also the opportunity to attend authors’ lectures, book readings and signings, and workshops on art criticism and zine production. The producers of widely circulated magazines and small independent operations rubbed elbows and exchanged products because this fair was as much for the exhibitors as it was for the visitors. There was an inspiring, collegial vibe humming throughout the building as artists, authors, editors and readers absorbed and shared ideas.

Then in October 2016, /edition Art Book Fair opened on the lower level of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in conjunction with Art Toronto, the glamorous international art fair. Like TOABF, /edition featured many exhibitors, an art installation, and programmed lectures, readings and panels. Similarly, there was also productive knowledge exchange, although like the art fair upstairs, the focus was more on economic exchange. Visitors to /edition were interested in the tangible objects available for purchase, such as limited-edition prints, artists’ multiples, or back issues of rare magazines that they could add to their collections.

TOABF - Gemma Warren, In Situ, 2016. Photo by Aron Safranyos

Considering that the artworld appreciates objects as much as concepts, it is perhaps no surprise that interest in printed matter is not declining to the extent that it is in other fields. The textures and structures of many art publications cannot be replicated as digital media, and can only be appreciated in print. Likewise, these fairs offer a priceless opportunity to meet and connect with the creators of the works.

TOABF - Collectif Blanc, Publishing | Form | Experimentation, 2016. Photo by Collectif Blanc

Like the founders, participants, and visitors of these two fairs, OCAD U also has a stake in the future of print. The university’s undergraduate Cross-Disciplinary Art program offers a specialization in publication. While digital publication is part of the curriculum, students are also encouraged to explore print media through courses such as “Handmade Photo Books,” “History of Print & Printmaking,” and “Book Arts: Bookbinding.” The artist’s publication plays an important role in art history, and this program provides future artists with access to the skills necessary to further contributions to the medium.

/edition - 2016 Vendor. Photo by Emily Cluett


For more information about TOABF, which runs June 15-18, please visit:

For more information about /edition, which runs October 27-30, please visit:

By Emily Cluett, MFA, Criticism and Curatorial Practice, 2017
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